Why Amnesty’s word still matters – #ICM2015

Amnesty International held its International Council Meeting (ICM) this last week in Dublin.

The Strategic Goals were the most important issue under consideration, but Amnesty delegates from all over the world also talked about internal governance nationally and internationally, fundraising, austerity, resource allocation, and the work on individuals at risk, for example.

Yet, one other issue stood out: sex work. After months of preparation and internal and external discussion, Amnesty was presented with the guiding principles of a draft policy to decriminalise sex work in order to protect the rights of women and men in this sector.

The proposal had generated massive interest not only among Amnesty members, but also far beyond. Social and conventional media bustled with comments for and against the resolution, or perceptions and reinterpretations of it.

Continue reading “Why Amnesty’s word still matters – #ICM2015”


What matters in the EU debate? Numbers, authorship or content?

article-2330871-19FEC6D0000005DC-122_634x434I attended yesterday an event organised by the European Institute of the LSE. The title was: “European Parliament Elections: What is at stake?” The speakers were Stuart Wheeler, UKIP treasurer, Maurice Fraser and Sara Hagemann, from LSE, and Mark Leonard, director of ECFR. The event was supposedly chaired by John Peet, Europe editor of The Economist. I say “supposedly” because he was there, but he didn’t do anything to prevent questions from the audience from becoming speeches from the audience. He didn’t really do a very good job, to tell the truth.

Anyway, one of the points that stirred up most comments was the issue about the amount of legislation that comes “from Brussels”. Mr. Wheeler said it was more than 70 or 80%. Others responded it was only 7 or 8%. My conclusion: Who knows? My question: Considering that 31% of Brits would vote for UKIP, does it mean that nearly 1 out of 3 don’t care about who decides in Brussels and, more importantly, what kind of decisions they make? Continue reading “What matters in the EU debate? Numbers, authorship or content?”

Rights as Democracy? A short response to Bellamy

Last week a few members of King’s College London held the first session of our reading group on Law and Social Sciences. We discussed Richard Bellamy’s “Rights as Democracy” (2012), and we also read Isaiah Berlin’s seminal “Two Concepts of Liberty” (1958) with Skinner’s critique, “A Third Concept of Liberty” (2002).

In his article, Bellamy opposes the traditional liberal justification of human rights as a set of prepolitical liberties and entitlements. Bellamy conceives rights in line with the republican notion of non-domination and claims that they require a democratic justification, which is by definition a political process. From that premise Bellamy works out the argument for a “rights-based judicial review of legislation”, that takes judicial hermeneutics away from professional and non-democratic courts and gives this power to “the people themselves” (I am indebted to my friend Donald Bello Hutt for introducing this concept to me).

For Bellamy, a political process to claim and justify rights must possess three important features. “First, it must show equal respect for the different views of individuals as rights bearers. Second it should also demonstrate equal concern for their capacity to employ their rights on the same terms as others. (…) Third, it will have to answer to the ‘traditional purpose’ of rights as means for holding power to account and marking its limits”.

I must start by saying that I find Bellamy’s argument both powerful and persuasive. Continue reading “Rights as Democracy? A short response to Bellamy”

We need to fight the pensée unique about the EU

1Cas Mudde raises a very important issue in a recent article in Open Democracy (“The European elite’s politics of fear”). Mudde criticises “the EU elite’s long-standing warning against alleged threats from so-called anti-Europeans”. A penetrating discourse is spreading from Brussels warning against the rise of nationalism, anti-Europeanism, populism and aversion towards liberal democracy. All those who oppose current EU policies, regardless of their reasons, are made responsible for it. Continue reading “We need to fight the pensée unique about the EU”

Are human rights claims morally virtuous?

ImageAt the inaugural lecture of Northumbria University last November, Lord Justice Laws provocatively asks “whether human rights make us bad citizens”. (Read the comment by Rosalind English in UK Human Rights Blog). Bearing in mind that the discourse of rights has reached a protagonist role in current political and legal thought, Laws argues that we should not confuse rights with morals.

The entrenchment of rights in the culture of the State carries with it a great danger. It is that rights, a necessary legal construct, come also to be seen as a necessary moral construct. Applied to the morality of individuals, this is a bad mistake. (…) Why is it so malign a force? Let me consider the nature of rights a little more closely. What am I doing when I state that I have a moral right – a right to do something, or a right not to have something done to me? It is not a statement that implies any virtue on my part. I am not good because I assert that I have a right. To claim a right involves no moral action by the claimant. There is nothing virtuous in making the claim. It is not an act of self-sacrifice or self-restraint, kindness or consideration towards anyone else; it is not other-centred; it claims what is due, or what is thought to be due. Systematically, it is a claim about how someone else ougt to behave – or refrain from behaving. Any morality in it is the other person’s morality. If it is morally justified, it is because the other party owes a duty – a moral duty – to make it good. (…) The performance of duty is virtuous; whereas a claim of right is only an insistence that someone else behave virtuously.

I see the point Lord Justice Laws makes here, and I agree to some extent. Continue reading “Are human rights claims morally virtuous?”

Crisis, active citizenship and human rights

If I have learned one thing out of this crisis, it is that the economy is far too important to be granted to economists and democracy is far too precious to be bestowed to politicians.

We must reclaim democracy by reinventing it. Legitimacy in public policy stand up Amnestymaking cannot depend solely on the process by which the authority becomes such. That is not enough anymore. Democracy must be attached to active participation. Post-crisis democratic societies will need transparent processes, open consultations and frank discussions. Different tools will be necessary depending on the level of power: local, national, regional or global. A new approach to governance is required. In other words, apart from making different decisions, we must definitely change the way in which we make decisions. Continue reading “Crisis, active citizenship and human rights”

How does an empire turn into a country like any other?

On the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee, today Tristam Hunt asks himself in The Guardian how the age of Queen Elizabeth II will be remembered. The article goes over some of the most important changes Britain went through in the last half a century: from the industrial Britain to the City; from decriminalising homosexual acts in 1967 to allowing civil partnerships in 2004; from the egalitarian mark to Thatcher’s and Cameron’s neoliberalism and Blair’s New Labour; from Suez to Iraq… Britain at least didn´t witness multiple republics like France, serious democratic crises like Italy, a painful partition like Germany, or shameful dictatorships like Spain, Portugal and Greece. (To tell the whole truth, it didn´t witness the birth and consolidation of a proper welfare state either, as Scandinavian countries did).

Yet, there is one defining element that draws a line between Britain and all others, with the disputable exception of France Continue reading “How does an empire turn into a country like any other?”